President Biden’s Moral Equivocation on Anti-Israel Demonstrators Demonstrates a Lack of Real Leadership

by | Apr 24, 2024

Mr. Biden needs to demonstrate the same moral clarity he demanded from his predecessor.

He condemns ‘the antisemitic protests,’ then mumbles words of equivocation.

President Biden opened his campaign-announcement video in 2019 by excoriating Donald Trump for suggesting “a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.” He was referring to Mr. Trump’s remarks following the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., demonstration in which some racists shouted, “Jews will not replace us.”

“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides,” Mr. Trump said. He later explained that he meant both sides of the debate over whether to remove a Confederate monument and that the antisemitic chanters were the “very bad people” he had in mind. He should have been clearer from the start.

This week Mr. Biden had his own moment of unclarity. Asked on Monday about current events on campus across the country, he said: “I condemn the antisemitic protests. That’s why I’ve set up a program to deal with that. I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.” He then mumbled a few unintelligible words.

Mr. Biden seemed to be saying that pro-Hamas demonstrators are no worse than pro-Israel demonstrators who believe that “what’s going on with Palestinians” is ultimately Hamas’s fault for invading Israel, barbarically attacking its people, and using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

Drawing such an equivalence is at best morally obtuse. There is no justification for what Hamas did and what its supporters at Columbia University say they want to do again a thousand times over. On the other hand, many reasonable people believe that Israel isn’t primarily at fault for “what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

We believe that Mr. Biden has a personal affection for Israel, if not for its prime minister. It’s clear, however, that he doesn’t want to lose votes among far-left and Arab-American Democrats who strongly oppose Israel’s existence. He is trying to strike a political balance under circumstances that call for real leadership.

Mr. Biden should unqualifiedly condemn antisemitism and harassment and violence against Jews. Trying to balance that justified condemnation by suggesting a false moral equivalence is wrong and will hurt him politically. Most Americans understand the difference between the murderers and rapists of Hamas and the defenders of Israel, even if they sometimes fault Israeli actions. If Mr. Biden fails to understand that difference—or, worse, understands but deliberately blurs it—voters will see through his politicization of a clear moral issue.

Many of these antisemitic rioters are as anti-American as they are anti-Israel. Their chants include “Death to America,” “Revolution,” and “Genocide Joe.” Some openly support Iran.

Those who genuinely care about the Palestinians should hope for Hamas’s defeat. Ending the terror group’s control over the Gaza Strip would be good for Palestinians and is a necessary condition for peace and for any two-state settlement. It won’t be possible if the American president fails to acknowledge the moral difference between good and evil. Mr. Biden needs to demonstrate the same moral clarity he demanded from his predecessor.

Alan Dershowitz is professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and the author of “Get Trump,” “Guilt by Accusation” and “The Price of Principle.” Active in litigation, writing, and defense of civil liberties and human rights. Visit his substack and follow him at @AlanDersh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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